Battle of the Prequels: Here’s Why 'House of the Dragon' is Better Than 'The Rings of Power'

HBO's House of the Dragon. Credit: HBO/Youtube

There’s a good chance I’ll catch some nerd heat here, but before you start piling on, let me establish my geek credentials: I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was a teen, and also the far superior The Hobbit.

While I loved Peter Jackson’s LOTR films from the moment they first started rolling out in 2001, I thought it was an unfortunate mistake that Jackson didn’t choose to make The Hobbit first. The Hobbit in my view is the greatest embodiment of the late, great, J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, and would have made an amazing lead-in to the transcendent Rings trilogy.

By the time Jackson got around to it—after the three very long Rings movies—both the audience and the filmmakers frankly seemed slightly bored by the whole thing. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and its sequel The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, sadly seemed to be tired afterthoughts to what was an otherwise revolutionary contribution to film.

Although I’d paid my nerd dues, I admit to being 100 percent late to the Game of Thrones party; by now I had four kids and a busy life and simply didn’t have time to watch HBO shows. But I kept hearing about GOT at parties and gatherings, and I thought to myself: someday I’ve got to look into this.

A little background: during a summer vacation many moons ago, my sister’s family introduced us to a fantastic BBC series that we gathered around each night to watch called Merlin. It had swords, intrigue, witches, all sorts of excitement—but what it didn’t have was nudity, incest, or explicit beheadings. It was mostly innocent, which was perfect for my at-the-time young family.  Exactly the opposite of GOT, in other words.

The wife and I came home from that vacation and decided to finally catch up on this thing we’d heard about but apparently missed out on, the Thrones. We turned it on and were immediately appalled—repulsed by the jarring incest and the throwing of young Bran Stark off a castle wall by Jaime Lannister, which permanently disabled the boy. We vowed never to watch that abomination again.


I’m sure a lot of our displeasure came from the fact that we’d just been enjoying watching the family-friendly Merlin. Truth be told, I am not some willowing weepie who can’t take a little gore and action in a movie—I’m actually an avid fan of questionable horror movies.

So one night, when I was bored with the news and longing for something interesting, and the wife was asleep… I gave it another try.

And I was hooked.

I was about four seasons behind, so it took a few months before I caught up. And once I did, calamity struck—there were suddenly no new episodes for me to watch of the show that I had now become completely addicted to. I quickly did what any red-blooded man or woman would do—I ordered the books and read every damn 1,000-page tome. There are five, so you do the math.

There, those are my nerd credentials.

Now, as summer 2022 draws to a close, the streaming world is being dominated by both the Lord of the Rings renaissance on Amazon (The Rings of Power) and the Game of Thrones prequel on HBO (House of the Dragon). It’s hard to keep up, but for you, trusty reader, I’ve been trying, and I have a verdict: the Game of Thrones prequel is better.


Both shows have astounding production values, with hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at visually gorgeous scenes that bring back distant unimaginable epochs. To be fair, both series are worthy and stand out from the countless Netflix throwaway movies that were constantly churned out during the pandemic. (I’ve stopped watching those; fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.)

My colleague Brandon Morse recently wrote about the wokeness plaguing The Rings of Power—and got national attention for his views—and I was tempted to disagree with him even though he’s my superior at RedState. (If I haven’t mentioned it recently, Brandon, you are probably one of the best managing editors ever). But I thought, “what’s wrong with having a few African-American people playing some parts in the show? Does it really take away from the vibe?”

Turns out I was focused on House of the Dragon, where they’ve cast the dark-skinned Steve Toussaint as a Valyrian prince known as the Sea Snake. The series is based on another of George R. R. Martin’s books, a prequel to the famed Game of Thrones epic, and I confess I haven’t read that one. But Toussaint is a fine actor, and I didn’t find that his race took away from the story in the slightest.

But Morse is right—in the Lord of Rings reboot, the Rings of Power, the casting is much more noticeable, and frankly, unworkable. While I applaud giving more people of diverse backgrounds the chance to work, the Rings of Power often has families where neither the mother nor the father bears even the slightest resemblance to the child. It doesn’t make for tolerance or acceptance; it simply makes for confusion.

But I digress. For whatever reason, we spend the fall of 2022 faced with two heavily-financed, gorgeously-filmed sword-and-fire epics that interestingly enough depict most characters with English, Irish or Scottish accents. It would seem we have not forgotten our fascination with the U.K after all. But don’t say that out loud.

Here is the one thing that separates the two epics at this point: stars. Tom Cruise proved once again this summer with Top Gun: Maverick that there is a gift that very few people have—magnetism. You might think Cruise is a weirdo; love him, hate him, whatever, but you can’t stop watching him and he is absolutely captivating on film. So too is House of Dragon star Matt Smith. No, I don’t have a crush on him, but he is so unbelievably evil, conniving, and devious, that he’s impossible not to watch. He is what gives lifeblood to the new series, and is the ultimate difference between the two shows.

Meanwhile, several other actors stand out, including Paddy Considine, who plays King Viserys I (I didn’t love him at first—felt he wasn’t regal enough to be Viserys—but he’s grown on me with his subtle performances), Milly Alcock, who plays Rhaenyra Targaryen, and the fetching Emily Carey as Rhaenyra’s best friend, Alicent Hightower.

While there are some fine actors in The Rings of Power, none of them to me stands out to me as much as anyone in this group.

I confess I had little hope for either of these reboots and thought I’d moved on in life, having no need to watch more sword-fighting and silly Elf conflicts. But these two series have exceeded my expectations. In the final analysis, however, I give House of Dragon the surprising vote for the winner, largely due to Matt Smith. Both shows are really good, but the magnetic, evil, performance of Smith takes the cake.


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